The headlining change for the 2012 Honda Civic Si is that the old 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine has been replaced by a 2.4-liter engine. I was one of the people who expected that the switch from a high-strung, 8000-rpm four to a larger, torquier engine would ruin the character of the Si, but it really hasn’t. The new four is still a rev-happy engine that encourages you to run it up toward the 7000-rpm redline, and to blip the throttle heartily on every downshift. And of course, the extra 31 lb-ft of torque makes the new Si feel gutsier and easier to drive.
No, the Honda Civic Si isn’t as comfortable or polished as its archrival, the Volkswagen GTI, but it is equally thrilling to drive. The snarling engine note, precise six-speed gearbox, and taut chassis make even the most mundane commute feel like an autocross course. Model-year 2012 also brings refreshed styling for the Civic lineup, which has the Si coupe looking sportier than the 2011 model. With snug bucket seats, shift lights, and a new trunk lid spoiler, the Si feels like a boy-racer’s dream — so it’s perfect for a 22-year-old like me.
If I had to quibble, I’d say first gear has too short a ratio, necessitating an upshift to second gear far earlier than I’d like. It’s also a bummer that the Civic Si isn’t available as a hatchback, and that it lacks gizmos like keyless ignition and a backup camera, which are available on many other new small cars.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
I’ve spent two different weekends now in the Civic Si. It’s a cute car that gets lots of looks, and I love the rust exterior and black interior combination — very sharp. Both weekends were airport runs, and the trunk as well as the back seat proved to have ample room for all our stuff. I was a little surprised by how quickly the Si drained its tank, and I was not even hot-dogging it. Also, there’s quite a lot of road noise on the freeway — I’m not sure if it was the all-season tires or if it’s really the car. The Civic does have one of the better antennas for the satellite radio and carries the signal in areas where other cars frequently drop it. As Jake mentioned, however, some of today’s popular options, like a back-up camera and keyless ignition, are missing here.
Kelly Murphy, Creative Director
I’m tentatively in the “dislike” camp on the Si’s new engine. The old 2.0-liter was clearly descended from Honda’s late-’90s golden age of performance, its insanely high, 8000-rpm redline recalling the S2000 and the Acura Integra Type-R. Alas, both those cars are long dead, so when Honda wanted a new engine for the Si, it had to look to the much more pedestrian Honda Accord. The new 2.4-liter is not a bad engine — it’s smooth and wonderfully torquey, significantly improving the Si’s around-town drivability. The 7000 rpm redline is pretty darn impressive for a long-stroke four-banger. Put this engine in any other car (like an Accord), and I’d probably have only the kindest things to say about it. But in the Si, it leaves me longing for the lusty, exotic note of the old engine. The personality change is exacerbated by the fact that, as Jake notes, first gear is too short. It’s also spaced too widely from second gear, such that even when you shift right at redline, there’s a moment’s lag in acceleration.
All this doesn’t extinguish my love for the Si. It still has a fabulous gearbox (though the gas and brake pedals are a bit too far apart for my feet), quick and communicative steering, and a well-tuned chassis. However, its effervescent personality, which once put it higher on my list than the Volkswagen GTI and Mazda 3, has been dulled enough that I would no longer recommend it over those competitors.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
If the rev-happy engine is the totem of the previous Civic Si’s youthful spirit, then consider me an old codger. I wasn’t a fan of it, particularly since it tended to thrash and howl, especially when pushed into the stratosphere of its rev band.
Whereas Zenlea doesn’t like the mature demeanor of the new car’s 2.4-liter, I actually prefer it. Unless you push the new four until the VTEC tell-tale lights up, engine noise is surprisingly well-suppressed and relegated to the background.
This may clash with the boy-racer image long associated with the Si, but it’s more what I like in pocket-rocket compacts. High-strung hijinks are fun and all, but the ability to drive in a docile fashion around town without buzzing your fillings out is certainly a plus.
Apart from the powertrain, it’s hard to point out exactly what differs between this Si and the last one. Civic redesigns have apparently transformed from revolutionary to evolutionary affairs, and the 2012 model bears more than a passing resemblance to its predecessor both inside and out. Pity Honda didn’t ditch the awkward two-tiered dashboard. In fact, Honda only increased my confusion by adding an additional LCD screen in the upper level – but it primarily serves as a redundant display for the audio system.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
Honda’s Civic Si is a car of dueling personalities. Drive with patience and a light right foot, and the Civic Si is as docile and pleasant as a base Civic. Attack the road and the Si responds with eagerness and energy in the engine, in the chassis, and in the steering. This split character is not a result of uncertainty or insecurity; the Civic Si is exactly the car that Honda set out to deliver, a daily driver that you can beat the snot out of on weekends, or a weekend backroad bomber that you can comfortably live with every day.
Having previously driven the 2011 Civic in standard and hybrid trims, I was delightfully surprised by the Si’s lively, accurate, and well-weighted steering. Honda would be wise to transfer the Si’s on-center responsiveness over to the standard Civic. Additionally, Honda’s switch from the 2.0-liter to the 2.4-liter is a meaningful improvement. The larger engine spins with the same enthusiasm at full throttle but adds a dollop of torque to combat the previous Si’s weed-whacker-like character. My only issue with the new (to the Si) powertrain is its gravelly demeanor at part throttle in the middle of the tach range. It’s in those situations — when you’re driving quickly but hoping to avoid drawing attention to yourself — that the Civic Si comes off as atypically crude.
At a relaxed pace, the Civic Si doesn’t have the fun factor of a Volkswagen GTI and in harder driving it doesn’t have the bite of a Mazdaspeed3. Either of those two would be a better car for the enthusiast who intends to track or modify their car. But if maturity and civility have a high standing on the shopping list, the Civic Si is the right car. It is the pocket rocket for those whose rational side overrules their passionate side.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe with Navigation
Base price (with destination): $24,475
Price as tested: $24,819
2.4L I-4 w/ iVTEC
6-sp manual transmission
Vehicle stability assist with traction control
Remote keyless entry
Tilt/telescope steering column
AM/FM/CD audio system with 6 speakers
Leather-wrapped seats, steering wheel
Heated front seats and side mirrors
Intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID)
FM nav traffic
Options on this vehicle:
XM satellite radio — $344
Key options not on vehicle:
— None —
22 / 31 / 25 mpg
2.4L DOHC 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 201 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 170 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Curb weight: 2897 lb
Wheels/tires:17-inch alloy wheels
215/45R17 all-season tires
Competitors: Volkswagen GTI, Jetta GLI, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Mazdaspeed3